14 December 2014

Air Direct to Blenheim and Kaikoura

Air Direct Ltd was formed in April 1993 by Mark Barry, an ex-policeman, physical training instructor and a flying instructor with the Wellington Aero Club. Charter services commenced out of Wellington after the company’s first aircraft, Piper Pa23-230 Aztec D, ZK-DIR (c/n 27-4242), was registered on the 9th of September 1993. Craig Watson was employed as the Chief Pilot.

Air Direct's first Piper Aztec, ZK-DIR, captured at Wellington on 21 December 1993

Charter services continued until June 1995 when the Aztec was sold to Sunair. At this point the company went into abeyance until it was purchased by Philip Smees and Michael King in August 1995. Another Piper Pa23-250 Aztec C, ZK-JEI (c/n 27-2638), was purchased in October 1995 and this was used for charter and freight work as well as establishing air services between Wellington and Blenheim and Wellington and Kaikoura.

In the Kaikoura Star, late September 1995, the company’s managing director, Michael King, announced  Air Direct’s intention to operate an on-demand service between Wellington and Kaikoura using a 12-seater twin-engine turbo prop GAF Nomad. Services were planned to begin with a single daily flight on the 7th of October increasing to twice a day service from the 1st of November 1995. Flights were timed to arrive at Kaikoura at 11.00am and 1.25pm over the summer season and at 1.25pm during the winter months. Air Direct announced once the service was established they would operate it as a daily scheduled service. “Besides the 12-seater, the airline will fly a five seater Piper Aztec which would operate whether full or not,” Mr King was reported as saying.

Work on sealing the Kaikoura airfield runway delayed the inaugural service which was flown in early November 1995. The Kaikoura Star of the 15th of November 1995 reported that, “Air Direct has made its first scheduled Kaikoura to Wellington flight. The five seater Piper Aztec collected a full load of passengers to fly north. The new runway will enable the airline to bring in a 12-seater aircraft once bookings pick up said managing director Michael King.” No details were given of the actual date of the first flight. Air Direct’s flights to Kaikoura operated under visual flight rules and whenever flights were unable to operate passengers were shuttled to Picton to be flown across Cook Strait with Soundsair.

On the Kaikoura service... Piper Aztec ZK-JEI at Kaikoura on 10 March 1998

The following year, at the commencement of the 1996 summer schedule, Mike King told the Kaikoura Star that the airline would provide as many flights between Kaikoura and Wellington as were needed to cope with demand. He said the airline has had a change of emphasis this year and intends to arrange its flights to and from the capital to cater for locals, not tourists. "We're trying to arrange our schedule for locals because we can get into Kaikoura in quite bad weather but we don't fly tourists in it because they don't want to whale watch or whatever in bad weather. People want to come to Kaikoura for other reasons than tourism," he said. Mr King said the airline was considering weekend flights, so Kaikoura people could commute to Wellington for the week and Wellington people could visit Kaikoura for the weekend. "We're thinking of flying to Kaikoura and back later on Friday and then again on Sunday."

The only advertising Air Direct did in the Kaikoura Star, 25 September 1996

In addition to the Kaikoura flights Air Direct operated twice daily weekday flights between Wellington and Blenheim with a single flight operated on Saturdays and Sundays. 

On the Blenheim service. Air Direct's Piper Aztec ZK-JEI at Woodbourne on  6 February 1996
Air Direct timetable, ca 1997

On the 30th of June 1996 Piper Pa23-250 Aztec E, ZK-FHO (c/n 27-4585), was added to the fleet, with Air Direct operating the Wellington to Takaka air service on behalf of Takaka Valley Air Services. ZK-FHO continued to wear its Takaka Valley Air Services titles while being operated by Air Direct.

Piper Aztec ZK-FHO at Takaka on 6 January 1998. At this time Air Direct was operating the air service for Takaka Valley Air Services.

In the first half of 1997 Pionair Adventures Ltd purchased a 50 per-cent share of Air Direct, thereby improving Pionair’s access to the Wellington charter market. A new company, Pionair Direct Ltd, was formed in September 1997, and Mike King undertook the oversight of the new company. Piper Pa23-250 Aztec ZK-DGS (c/n 27-7304959) was added to the fleet in October 1998 to provide extra capacity on the Kaikoura service.

Services continued into 1998 with the three Aztecs being sold by the end of that year.

Rebranded... Piper Aztec ZK-JEI carrying Pionair Direct details. Photo taken at Napier on 8 January 1999 after the service ended.

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